The Shiv Sena's games

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST

What was the Shiv Sena's actual role in the December 1992 outrage at Ayodhya, and during the run-up to it? Documents produced by the Mumbai Police before the Liberhan Commission tell the story.

This article is the second of a three-part series on confidential documents handed over by the Maharashtra government to the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry investigating the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The first part (Frontline, August 3, 2001) had looked at communications between the Maharashtra government, the Union Home Ministry and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.).

This article explores the surveillance of political parties and organisations in Mumbai by the Mumbai Police's special branch between October 3, 1992 and December 31, 1992. These Special Branch diaries offer new insights into the micro-level workings of the Hindu Right in Mumbai before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. They in particular challenge the Shiv Sena's claims to having been central to the Ram Janma-bhoomi campaign.

...many people want me to address a meeting in Uttar Pradesh. Ashok Singhal of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) has also asked me to go there. But I don't want the issue to be diverted with people flocking around me, rather than at the main centre.

- Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, quoted in The Maharashtra Times, October 6, 1992.

The Liberhan Papers - II

JUST 10 days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, a plainclothes police officer noted down the contents of a billboard the Shiv Sena had put up at the Khar railway station in suburban Mumbai. It declared that the Sena's faux Fuhrer, Bal Thackeray, would "go to Ayodhya with thousands of Shiv Sainiks". "The construction of the temple," it proclaimed, "is inevitable."

Over the next few days, identical billboards came up in Asia's largest slum, Dharavi. On November 27 at a joint meeting with the Sena, the Hindu Mahasabha's Vikram Savarkar said that had he been the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, "he would have blown up the Babri Masjid with a time bomb at midnight". "If the occasion demands," Savarkar concluded, "we shall declare war and not allow a single Muslim to stay in the country."

When the Babri Masjid was brought down by Hindu fundamentalists few people then had any real reason to doubt Thackeray's claim that his organisation had played a key role in the outrage. But the diaries submitted by the Mumbai Police's Special Branch to the Justice Liberhan Commission, made up of the painstaking noting of dozens of operatives scattered across the city, make clear that the Sena in fact maintained its distance from the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign until its final days. It, instead, used the climate of hate and intolerance generated by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP to legitimise outright criminal activity, including land-grabbing and extortion. Only when the organisation was sure that the regime of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao would not unleash state power to end the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, it appears, did the Sena actually prepare for the communal pogrom that would rip Mumbai apart.

Most of the important Sena leaders timed their departure for Ayodhya making sure that they would reach there well past 'half-time'. On December 4, 1992, Special Branch officers recorded that Manohar Joshi (who later became Chief Minister) and eight other members of the Legislative Assembly had booked train tickets for the next night. Thirty Sena members of the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) and a dozen party workers had tickets to travel with them. The diary does not state what train the group was booked on, but simple calculation makes clear that Joshi and his troop had no intention of reaching Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The only train from Mumbai to Faizabad, the station closest to Ayodhya, takes 41 hours, and the journey on the faster Avadh Express to Lucknow, a short drive from Ayodhya, takes 35 hours. In the event, the actual Sena presence in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished was only a small group led by Moreshwar Save, MLA, who left from New Delhi on the Ganga Jamuna Express on December 4, 1992.

WHAT was the Sena actually doing as the Ram Janmabhoomi movement went along its way? On October 12, 1992, cadre of Sena shakha (branch) 106, armed with machetes, stones and soda water bottles, were engaged in war with the residents of the slums outside the main gate of Air-India Colony. Ravindra Koragi Pujari, the head of the residents' association, had complained against the branch's efforts to evict the residents and grab their land. The local shopkeepers, too, had lost their patience with the Sena's extortion and levies. A police officer and a constable were injured in the Sena violence. The police, in turn, arrested six Sena leaders, including the head of shakha 106. Sena MLAs Madhukar Sarpotdar and Gajanand Kirtikar, both of whom played a significant role in the post-demolition riots, had to intervene to stop any further police action against their organisation.

Much of the Sena's activity during this period was in line with this kind of roughneck operation. On October 17 a municipal anti-encroachment unit demolished huts in the Mankhurd area, along with a Hanuman temple adjoining the slum cluster. It also confiscated the idol kept in the temple. Sena cadre protested, to quote the Special Branch diary, that "temples of Hindus in Hindustan had become endangered, but an illegal Masjid built in Phule Nagar was allowed to expand and no action was being taken against it". The shakha pramukh (branch head) raised expressly local demands, threatening an agitation unless the idol was returned. No mention was made of larger themes, like the ongoing Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In a similar incident in Jogeshwari, MLAs Kirtikar and Subhash Desai protested against what they claimed was the vandalising of Navrathri pandals (marquees) and asked that a police post that had been erected in the area to prevent violence be removed.

Interestingly, the Sena directed much of its efforts to economic issues, seeking to occupy political space that the secular opposition in Maharashtra was focussing on. In early October, Sena leader Datta Nalavade led a series of processions protesting against the rise in prices. On October 1 the Sena blocked the Western Express Highway at Kherwadi and the key suburban Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Road. Again, on October 12, Sena leader Subhash Sawant organised a traffic blockade to protest inflation, at Agarkar Chowk in Andheri. As late as October 19, the women's wing of the Sena was spending time not on preparing for travel to Ayodhya, but protesting against supposed slights against their leader. That morning, Sena women cadre gathered outside Left activist Pushpa Bhave's home in Dadar to voice their anger over her criticism of Thackeray at a rally in Vasai.

On November 18, 1992, Bajrang Dal cadre put up a billboard at the Khar railway station, carrying a stark warning of events to come. "Death Penalty," it proclaimed, and said: "If on account of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, a demand for partition is made by the Babri Masjid Committee, then the Bajrang Dal will burn alive anti-national Muslims." "From December 3 onwards," it concluded, "five hundred Ram bhakts (devotees) will leave for Ayodhya for the great battle."

A week earlier, the Bajrang Dal had sought to create an Ayodhya-like confrontation within Mumbai, organising demonstrations at caves at Mandapesh-war, near Borivali in the outer suburbs, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Speakers at the function, who included Bharatiya Janata Party luminary Kirit Somiah, demanded that a cross put up by Christian fishermen inside the caves be removed. The Special Branch diaries record that all who spoke engaged in considerable anti-Muslim invective.

The emphasis and accent in the mobilisation by the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) could not have been more different from that of the Sena. From as early as October 2, 1992, as ironic a date as possible, the RSS held processions to mark the festival of Dasara. The mobilisation began following a call by the VHP's Ashok Singhal the previous day, asking for Ram paduka (footwear) processions to cover 250,000 villages. Over the next several days, gatherings of up to 1,500 people were organised in Chembur, Goregaon, Santa Cruz, Andheri, Kurla and Ghatkopar. At all these gatherings, express reference was made to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Entries from October 9 in the Special Branch diaries contain detailed accounts of the VHP's Ram paduka processions. The regions of these mobilisations, central to building support for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, ranged from the working class Mazagaon docks to suave Colaba, and from the upmarket suburbs of Andheri and Juhu to lower middle class Mulund and Deonar.

By the middle of October, these processions were picking up momentum. Part of the reason was that senior leaders had started to pitch in. Among the luminaries were Singhal and the Bajrang Dal's Sheel Gund Vijay. At a series of meetings in Mumbai's suburbs on November 22, the Special Branch diaries note, Singhal launched an incendiary attack on the Supreme Court. "Judges," the Special Branch diaries record him as saying, "are more concerned about how they can remain in the good books of the Supreme Court, and hence we cannot expect justice from them." The temple, thus, could only be built by "people's sacrifice".

Earlier, on November 2, a month after its first Dasara rallies, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal made their first appeal for volunteers. The occasion was a prayer and commemoration meeting for two brothers allegedly killed in police firing during the abortive kar seva of November 2, 1990. In this context, no one could have missed the meaning of Singhal's words.

"CHALO AYODHYA," read a VHP billboard put up on November 28, 1992. "There will no longer be any pleas, just war," it warned, "and the battle will be bloody and terrible." At the end of November, VHP-BJP spokesperson G.B. Sardesai held a briefing at the BJP's headquarters in Mumbai, listing the departure of kar sevaks for Ayodhya. Similar press conferences were held on almost a daily basis until December 3, 1992. At one of these interactions with the press, Sardesai announced that a group of volunteers was made up exclusively of women. As hundreds of volunteers departed by train, those who remained behind prepared for battle within the city. At a December 4 press conference, BJP MLA Dhamramchand Chowradia and the VHP leader Bhaskar Mundale announced that a lalkaar din (Day for Action) would be held through the city. Seventy meetings, the Special Branch noted, were to be held through the city.

On December 6, 1992, as the Babri Masjid went down, bells rang out to mark the demolition. The welter of VHP-RSS-Bajrang Dal mobilisations in the month before, methodically recorded by the Special Branch, leave little doubt that neither those who volunteered to travel to Ayodhya nor their leaders were in any doubt about what their objective was. Despite the information flowing in from both the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi and its own Special Branch operatives, Mumbai's police hierarchy proved totally unprepared to cope with events. No effort was made to stop the ringing of bells, for example - an obvious provocation.

Interestingly, the Special Branch diaries show that Mumbai's Muslim community had maintained a studiously moderate approach to events until then. Barring occasional speakers from the Far Right, like the Islamic Action Organisation's Khurshid Ahmed, who threatened on October 3, 1992 to "plant a green flag on New Delhi", most Muslim leaders mentioned in the diaries did not call for violence.

New Delhi finally chose to act on December 10, 1992, banning the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the RSS, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Islamic Seva Sangh under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Significantly, perhaps, the last two find no mention in the Special Branch diaries. The one major communal organisation that escaped legal action was the Shiv Sena. Its decision to maintain a low profile from October onwards evidently paid off. Sena storm troopers were now able to pick up where the VHP-RSS had left off. A December 9 strike, called to protest against the arrest of L.K. Advani, now Union Home Minister, was organised on the ground almost entirely by the Sena. Although the Special Branch diaries that the Maharashtra government has made over to the Justice Liberhan Commission say little about events after December 6, and nothing about the role of the Sena in the rioting of December 1992-January 1993, conclusions are not hard to draw. If the Sangh Parivar sowed the seeds for the Mumbai carnage of 1992-1993, the Shiv Sena was left free to reap its harvest.

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